Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

53 – Sometimes They Come Back

Rachel screwed up and accidentally gave David material for episode 54 instead of 53, so there's no illustration this week. Instead, we offer both our sincere apologies and this photo of Miles dressed up as Mister Sinister at a costume party.
Rachel screwed up and accidentally gave David material for episode 54 instead of 53, so there’s no illustration this week. Instead, we offer both our sincere apologies and this photo of Miles dressed up as Mister Sinister for a costume party.

In which Wolverine doesn’t care about your baby; Storm takes charge; duels are terrible bases for systems of government; editorial mandate is hell on a marriage; Magneto is a pretty cool teacher; Jean Grey comes back; and we have mixed feelings about the Phoenix retcon.


  • Kenji Uedo
  • Uncanny X-Men #201
  • New Mutants #35
  • Avengers #263
  • Fantastic Four #286
  • Classic X-Men #8
  • The post-Trial of Magneto status quo
  • Nathan Christopher Charles Summers
  • A small cross-section of Cyclops’s myriad issues
  • The wrong means to the right end
  • Magneto’s educational philosophy
  • The politics of creative credits
  • “You Know Who”
  • The Phoenix retcon
  • Several unrelated break-ins
  • The return of Jean Grey
  • Jean and the Phoenix Force
  • Alternate-timeline Madelynes Pryor
  • Jean Grey’s code names

NEXT WEEK: X-Factor begins! (for real, this time – sorry about that SNAFU!)

You can find a companion index to the material mentioned in this episode on our blog!

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  1. I hate to the “well actually…” guy, but Her eventually started going by Kismet. I think she adopted the name in the pages of QUASAR.

    Ironically, she choose Kismet because she felt it was her fate to always be on the outside of the big events, and her relative lack of exposure has sorta shown that to be true.

    Still, there’s probably worse things to be in the Marvel universe than a Quasar supporting character.

    1. No, that’s fine. We honestly know next to nothing about that thread of the Marvel Universe; um, actually to your heart’s content.

    2. Weren’t the two of them eventually retconned into somehow being the parents of Stakar “Starhawk” Ogord (as distinct from Aleta), and the father who raised him adoptive? Or was that a fever dream brought on by 90s Cosmic Marvel, terrible anime and pharmaceuticals?

  2. Great podcast–I especially liked your analysis of issue #201

    I’m intrigued to see how things proceed in the second year, since the #200s are very much the best of times and the worst of times for the book, as it flails around a bit in search of a direction, but there’s some pretty good smaller stories along the way (The first Genosha story is a fantastic story, one of the best X-Men stories ever I’d say)

    Can’t wait to hear your take on the early issues of X-Factor. I remember reading them when they first came out, and even 11 year old me could tell “This book has no real reason to exist except it’s on the schedule.” It gets some sense of direction when the Simonsons take over, but those early issues are just . . .kinda barren and aimless.

    1. I’m reading X-Factor now and while I don’t hate the book, it definitely makes me appreciate Claremont more.

      1. I’ve said this before, but IMO it really picks up post-Mutant Massacre, as Louise Simonson takes a long, hard look at just how fucked up the X-Factor setup is and brings it all crashing down. There are some clunkers (Beast’s illness and mental degradation) but as a whole it’s probably my favorite X-book of the era, and one of my two or three favorite comics period of the 80s. Yes, even Judgement Wars (evil laugh).

        1. Yeah. It definitely improves significantly once Simonson takes over, but it’s still not as strong as Claremont’s Uncanny for me. Too much clunky dialog and shadowy villains. To each their own though.

  3. Hey R&M –

    I’m wondering what the shows are going to look like as we get into the 200s era. I assume we’re going to be going X-Men/New Mutants/X-Factor as the “regular” three-week rotation, with one covered each week (plus mini-series, crossovers, and the Wolverine series once it starts being sprinkled in). Is that how it’ll be?

    My other question is just a practical one; how far in advance do you two outline your episodes? Like, right now, how far ahead are your plans of where you are? I don’t have any real “reason” to ask… I’m just curious.

  4. At the time, I felt the resurrection of Jean Grey cheapened the entire Dark Phoenix Saga beyond acceptability. I thought it destroyed Marvel Artistic Integrity in favor of a Disneyesque level of milking intellectual property for profit like a ten year old Asian Sweatshop girl.

    However, over the decades I’ve embraced the retcon, and feel Jean’s link to the Phoenix Force and repeated resurrection really was fated.

    1) Saying, “No Longer Am I The Woman You Once Knew” is what is referred to as ‘forshadowing’ as legit as Mastermind’s shadow on the wall; just because people didn’t take it literally doesn’t mean that the first words out of Phoenix’s mouth weren’t a direct statement that she wasn’t actually Jean.
    2) A character named ‘Phoenix’ is intrinsically branded with the power of resurrection, like a product named ‘Bug Kill’ might be an insecticide.
    3) Jean Grey’s Origin Moment was entering into telepathic contact with her best friend Annie Richard’s mind while Annie was dying after being struck by a car. Following Annie’s progress Down Into The Blackness was her defining moment, and what bonded her into the LifeDeath that is the Phoenix Force.

    Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary”, the story of Orpheus and Euridice, “The Money’s Paw”, and a number of other works detail the price of resurrection, and I feel the arc illustrates the price better than a single life and death do. If Nightcrawler really did pay the price of giving up on Life Everlasting in Heaven for his current reanimation, Cypher is still a corpse animated by a technomystic infection by Selene, and Magik is a revenant golem constructed by a pedophilic Hell Lord as part of his obsession, each has paid the “Better Off Dead” pricetag for their second life, as did the New Mutants after their death and resurrection by the Beyonder.

    But then again, that’s just my own personal reaction to Marvel’s revolving door in the funeral home: a “lie back and try to enjoy it” attitude that I rebelled at only one after the whole ‘Onslaught/Heroes Return’thing, where I stopped collecting for ten years (until Magik Came Back, actually, like the Proverbial Cat.)

    1. The thing is, Phoenix didn’t come back. Jean Grey, who never was Phoenix, comes back. This messes up both your lovely logic and years of her character development.

      I very much agree with LAndrew’s comment “This book [X-Factor] has no real reason to exist except it’s on the schedule.” X-Factor’s beginning was spectacularly ham-fisted…

      1. (Just in case it wasn’t clear, I’ve no real objection to the idea of Phoenix coming back again and again. I just think saying the Phoenix who killed herself on the Moon wasn’t Jean was a terrible idea.)

  5. For a character named ‘Phoenix’ Jean has really not come back from the dead all that often. Compare the DC character Resurrection Man who would come back from the dead several times an issue.

  6. I’m curious if you will go into what’s going on with Beast, Angel, and Iceman before you go into X-Factor? I don’t think you need to go into all the Defenders issues and the Champions, but speaking as someone who just comes into X-Factor by reading a smattering of Defenders issues, I’m curious if there were any character changes that happened to Angel, Iceman, and Beast between their appearance in “All-New, All Different” and X-Factor 1.

  7. What’s your opinion on the X-Factor costumes? I remember loving the “X” jumpsuits growing up because everyone looked distinct in a way the X-Men black-and-gold never did, while still being part of an obvious, unified team (at least until Archangel. Get with the program or go home, Warren.) Looking at them now they’re fairly bland, but I’m still fond particularly of Scott and Jean’s post-FotM uniforms.


  8. Man, this era is probably my all-time favorite when it comes to Magneto, though there may be gaps in my knowledge in regards to him later on. Supervillainy is cool and all, but a shifting grey area Magneto full of sadness and regret, struggling to move on from his past and be a ‘normal’ good guy, struggling to work with the X-Men and watch out for young mutant students, to build a new life and maybe find a little bit of happiness along the way? I eat that right up, I’d read that sort of character development arc FOREVER. It’s really a shame that it didn’t last very long in the grand scheme of things and he’s been in a constantly fluctuating state of evil and darkness since.

    Also shoot, all that ’80s fashion. Rachel Summers/Grey needs to start dressing like a member of the Eurythmics again, she rocked the short hair/men’s suit look hard.

    1. Have you read his current series? It’s basically all grey-area Magneto wrestling with regret and reformation.

      1. Ooh, maybe I should check that out at some point. I remember being turned off a bit when I caught a glimpse of some of the art and saw the shaved head, heh. Magneto without his trademark head of amazing white hair? Bah!

  9. R & M (or any other X-perts),

    I have a question about “the Recon”: did the events (and implications) of Phoenix recon happen across the multiverse or just in the 616. In particular, I’m wondering whether or not it happened on Earth 811/Days of Future Past. Was Rachel Gray’s mother actually the “actual” Jean Gray or was she the Phoenix reproduction of Jean Gray?

    Also, if Rachel’s mother was the Phoenix reproduction, then did they ever find the 811 actual Jean Gray at the bottom of Jamaica Bay?

    1. “did the events (and implications) of Phoenix recon happen across the multiverse or just in the 616”

      It’s kinda complicated, like everything X-Men, but the quick and easy answer is:

      Depends on which universe you go to.

      Longer answer: There have actually been TWO different What Ifs about the end of DPS. One published pre-retcon, one after. The Pre-Retcon (What If Vol 1 #27) treated the Jean on the moon as the real Jean and had her depowered until events caused her to break free of the power blocks, at which points she goes Dark Phoenix and destroys the universe. You’d be surprised at how many What Ifs end with Everyone Dies.

      The Post-Retcon (What If Vol 2 #32-33) version works a little differently, with the Phoenix being depowered for a time and being married to Cyclops and giving birth to a Rachel, until an attack by a Shadow King possessed Mastermind causes it to repower itself to save Rachel. In the aftermath of that, the Phoenix accidentally destroys the Jean still in the river. Anyways, things continue towards a DoFP-like timeline and end with a final attack on the Sentinels HQ where most everyone dies. Afterwards, the Phoenix wants to stay with Scott and Rachel but Destiny warns it that it WILL go Dark Phoenix if it stays. So the Phoenix leaves forever. The end.

      Also, a Dark Phoenix Jean Gray was the second mission for the Exiles, where the team had to kill her before she destroyed everything like in the What If Vol 1 story.

      1. Thanks for reminding me about the “What Ifs” — I’m pretty sure that I have those volume 2 issues you mention. And yeah, most “What Ifs” can typically be retitled “everyone is gonna die in the end.”

        So that’s part of the answer I was looking for. Still curious if the retcon happened in the 811.

    2. We actually address this in the upcoming Episode 54, I think! It’s not 100% clear, but the short answer is that (according to some comics but not others), Jean actually was Phoenix in Earth 811. The retcon appears to be specific to 616 and certain other non-811 universes. Of course, other comics say the exact opposite…

      1. Thanks Miles. That makes sense. I remember that when the two met in the “Days of Future Present” annual, Rachel Summers (to do the appropriate Rachel disambiguation) called Jean “Mom” to her face and referenced the holoempathic crystal.

        I just wondered whether or not that continued to be canon.

        So basically, Jean 616 is really the exception to Phoenix hosting huh? By that I mean, it seems like the Phoenix force’s usual MO is to actually merge with a host body. At least that’s what it did for Rachel Summers, Quinten Quire, the Phoenix/PENIS 5, and other multiversal Jean Grays.

  10. New Mutants 35 was my first issue and it made me a lifelong fan. I loved the set-up,the characters, the story, and the art. What stuck with me the most were the scenes of the team acting like teenagers; Doug’s anger at being sidelined, their commiserating at Harry’s, the way the completely unsubtley snuck out of their rooms and got caught by Magneto. I wish we’d seen more of Magneto: Headmaster than we did, but at least we got issues 35-40 (I know he was the head of the school for about another 25 issues, but I don’t think he was as well-integrated into the series as he was in the aforementioned arc).

  11. Poor Madelyne. She totally gave birth by herself at the mansion too. WTH. At one point I put together a timeline of what her life looks like from this point and it really, really is terrifyingly awful.

  12. Thanks for all the X-Planation. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but your thoughts on the Phoenix have caused me to have some appreciation for the storyline. Perhaps because I was introduced to the X-Men through adaptations (such as the films) I’ve actually gotten frustrated with the Phoenix storyline and the way Jean’s story always leads there, without her getting other character development. (I never understood why she left the plane in X2. Couldn’t she levitate the plane while inside the plane? Then I realized they were probably making an attempt at recreating the space shuttle scene with the plane.) Hearing you guys talking about it has given me some insight on why fans love the Phoenix story so much.

  13. If they were going to bring Jean back, I wish they’d have just made Madelyne Jean’s real body who came out of the Phoenix pod when the phoned is’ body died on the moon. It could have led to some fabulous identity angst:

    Cyclops: I knew I loved you, Jean, no matter what!we wee meant to be!
    Jean: omg, you married someone who looks just like your “dead” girlfriend. And what do you mean, “meant to be”?!

    Jean: who am I? Madeline, Jean, the Phoenix? *idennity crisis*

    Oh well. Sounds like there had been plenty of angst in the Marvel studios over this retcon as it was!

  14. I’m one of those who had trouble accepting the retcon — still do, mostly, and I tend to kind of mentally omit it when reading relevant issues and then ignore the “so-why-is-Jean-back” question when reading later stuff. For me, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I started reading X-Men around the Dark Pheonix Saga. I picked that up in back issues (or reading friend’s copies, really); when I first heard about them Jean was dead. And then it *kept getting referenced*. Coming in at that point, Jean’s death wasn’t just a single event; it was a defining event for the comic. Seeing it overturned (and more or less in the middle of Secret Wars 2, the grossest screw-art-cash-grab I’d ever seen) really felt cheap. I stopped reading X-Men for a good long while about a year or two after that, but emotionally my disengagement began here.

    All of which adds up to this: I bet how one feels about that retcon has to do with the precise way in which one first encounters these stories — monthly, or all in a bunch later; in what order; knowing what going in; etc.

    I will say, though, that I think that Jean’s death was really what started the X-Men down the slide of death-revolving-door. Yeah, as I know you said when talking about this with Greg Rucka, there was Prof X earlier. But that was a lot earlier, and since Claremont took over both deaths & other consequences had been permanent. This changed it.

    I’d like to say “editorially driven comics suck” — but I remind myself Jean’s death was an editorial mandate in the first place. So it ain’t that simple.

    Still, the T-Shirt I want says:
    “Han shot first
    Jean Grey died on the moon”

    Forgive rambling comment. Decades later these things still mater emotionally. Which is why I thank you for the podcast.

    1. Or you could steal all of my thunder by mentioning it in the first five minutes in the next episode….

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